Alexander Lee- Magician Extraordinaire

Article excerpt

This man has hands that defy time and light. One moment, a single stem of rose becomes two, and then four, eight. A dove appears out of his bare hands. Hands of a true magician.

``I tell you, there never was a bad guy among us magicians, have you ever heard of a magician turned thief? That's because if the magicians ever set our hearts upon pickpocketing and gambling, that'd be the end of poor folks,'' chuckles the old magician, Lee Heung-su.

Or Alexander Lee, the living legend of Korean magic. For more than fifty years, it was his very hands that bedazzled hundreds of thousand spectators. But among all the audiences he had, this born entertainer says that children were the most difficult ones.

``You see, children see things. They've got quick eyes, and it's not easy to fool them, so I always brace myself up before going onstage before a stadium packed of kids,'' he says. That aside, they are his dearest spectators, who clap enthusiastically for every one of his performances.

It all began some fifty years ago, when Lee himself was little more than a kid. Before the Korean War, he was a performing acrobat-strongman, who jumped ropes and showed off his prowess by breaking chains, stones, whatever to impress the audience. Those were also hard days when he barely had things to eat, sustaining on gruels on circus tours that lasted as long as two year, from Manchuria to the South Sea.

His life took a turn, when, around 1954, he happened to bail out a traveling Taiwanese magician who had lost all his money in Korea.

``To earn money for him to travel back home, we traveled a bit, me doing the acrobatic stints and he doing his magic performances,'' he said. The money was sufficient to cover Ye's airfare.

``Upon departure, he said, `why don't you become a magician? a strongman or acrobat's life is over at 40, but a magician's life is forever, as long as you can move,' so I thought, maybe this might work.'' After two weeks, Mr. Ye came back with magicians' gadgets and taught him the ABCs of the art.

``I started performing magic in front of audience, and hey, they really reacted differently! Before, if I broke a stone with my fists, the people merely clapped, but when I showed them this little magic without exerting myself physically, the crowd roared,'' Lee recalled the old days.

Afterwards, he performed magic in circuses, nightclubs, theaters, in front of country folks, soldiers and children, simply all sorts of people and places. But even in his heyday, when he often made trips overseas, he never lacked the time to entertain orphans or soldiers. Nearing 80, he still performs, in addition to educating students and thinking up of yet another new magic.

``Even when I feel down or feel tired, I go onstage, and the crowd's cheer pumps in all the energy into me,'' he says, explaining the reason he still goes onstage and has maintained the health to do so.

As if to further prove what he says about happiness and magic, his face is simply all smiles. Even the mustache he has drawn into for the photo session fails to give him a sinister or sly look.

``One of the qualities of a magician is that you must have a happy face, one that never looks sullen. For female magicians, you have to be kinda slim as well, or the male magicians would really struggle lifting her,'' Lee says, reminding the reporter that she needs to lose quite a few pounds if she chooses the career.

The highlight of his career, perhaps, was the performances he did in 1998 aboard the Mt. Kumgang cruises which for the first time took travelers to North Korea. Lee performed in front of the North Korean tour guides as well as Southern tourists, and takes special pride in it.

``Magic transcends ideology and breaks down all cultural barriers. In the old days, with the dictatorship and the Cold War and all, all artists had to go through grueling censorship before any performance. …